Monthly Archives: November 2010

instagram: a picture-perfect social media tool?

The women's hockey team prepping for a big game, as told via Instagram filter.

Many folks — including me — have developed a new social media obsession with Instagram, an app based on photos and connectivity. The free app captures the appeals of people looking to tell stories via taking, editing and posting pictures … while commenting on and connecting with others doing the same.

I could share how close I was sitting to the stage for our student honors production.

I could share how close I was sitting to the stage for our student honors production.

At the most basic level, Instagram is photographing and filtering software. When taking iPhone pics via Instagram, I appear to gain greater iris control and focusing flexibility. When you take the photo, you can apply one of a number of filtering tools — which make it look like anything from an old Polaroid to washed-out contact sheet to monochrome. The filters may not quite as cool as paid app Hipstamatic, but quite a few add more flair and visual appeal to photos. It could be better integrated — clicking on a photo posted to Facebook whisks you to the nothing-special Instagram site — but I wouldn’t be surprised if more improvements appear on the horizon.

I like the washed-out old-photo filter a lot.

I like the washed-out old-photo filter a lot.

But the really neat part is the ability to share it within — and outside of — the Instagram community. After you take a photo and apply (or don’t) a filter, you can post it Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and/or Foursquare in one fell swoop. It even offers its own location-based option. And by default, pictures are shared with the Instagarm community. Looking through my Instagram feed on a recent night, I felt like part of a greater narrative of what people were doing. Even though my Instagram community is small for now, members were out watching two college hockey games, enjoying a romantic night in, reveling through a night out, spending quality time with the kids and exploring artistic endeavors. As a body of work, it’s a compelling snapshot (sorry) of a few hours of 21st century life.

Looking through the lens (sorry again) of the 5+1 Keys to Social Media Platform Adoption, Instagram posts some high scores:

  • Usefulness: Allows you to take, edit and share photos in a novel way; lets you enjoy pics from others.
  • Usability: Very simple. Its basic menu is five buttons: Feed, Popular, Share (where you take photos), News and Profile — pretty intuitive.
  • User Interactivity: You can comment on or like photos friends post. Not sure if other friends are using it? You can easily look through your Facebook and Twitter contacts. Want to make new friends? Browse the popular pics and follow those whose styles or activities you enjoy.
  • Sharability: Great sharing options to five popular platforms as well as within the Instagram community.
  • Sustainability: As long as you have things you want to document and/or you are interested in your friends’ photos, this can sustain your interest.
  • +1: Critical Mass: OK, Instagram isn’t there yet. But the ball is rolling, and I seem to pick up at least a follower a day among my friends adopting it. And I think it’s such a great app that I expect the social sharing and positive word of mouth to keep building the community.

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a video i love and why: what we learned from responses.

About a week and a half ago, I posted a blog challenge called A Video I Love and Why — choosing the Vancouver 2010 With Glowing Hearts video — and asked others to also post web video they enjoyed and why they did. The results were awesome — and, I think, showed some trends on what we like in video on the web.

  • Andrew Careaga stepped up almost immediately with Battle of the Album Covers. It’s a very creative, if a tad gory, animated story of various classic album covers creating mayhem — and a treat for music lovers.
  • Georgy Cohen suggested The Fully Sick Rapper, part of Christiaan Van Vuuren’s series on his months in tuberculosis quarantine. To try to maintain his sanity, he created videos of himself rapping — and improved his editing skills in the process.
  • Denise Graveline offered a classic Will It Blend? entry from Blendtec’s series of putting various objects through its blender. I found the joyfully cheesy video sufficiently interesting to use it in my media copywriting class.
  • The inimitable Todd Sanders served up Bill Genereux’s YouTube in Classrooms, a plea for educators to use YouTube in their lessons instead of banning access and creativity.
  • Michael Klein volunteered this TEDx video by Derek Sivers using the classic Guy Starts Dance Party YouTube video to make a point about leadership and movements.
  • Lori Packer shared the Red River College’s The Holiday Card, a mix of The Office type satire and screwball comedy, featuring an endearingly self-effacing performance by its president, Jeff Zabudsky.
  • JD Ross checked in with The Machine Is Us/ing Us, a powerful look at how Web 2.0 is not a concept or technology, but the sum total of ourselves.
  • Joe Bonner supplied A Life on Facebook, a current sensation imagining how our lives unfold publicly that is also a classic boy-meets-girl tale.

A wide variety of videos emerged, but some commonalities prevailed.

Substance over style. Most videos people chose were made on fairly low or no budgets. They tended to be simple stories where the appeal was the storyline itself, not anything glitzy or glossy. The same theme came up over and over in responses that you don’t need a lot of money to make a great video. But one thing you do need is …

Talk about the passion. Passion emerged as a common driving factor. Zabudsky is passionate enough about his college leadership, he’s willing to look a bit silly to promote it. Van Vuuren developed a new passion in quarantine and decided to share it. I’m sure the guys at Blendtec want these videos to sell blenders (and they have), but I love their infectious glee over seeing what kinds of crazy things their blender can pulverize. If you do a video — or anything — with passion, it is going to shine through.

Web video is an art form unto itself. If you see a traditional promotional video on YouTube, doesn’t it look out of place? Web video demands good pacing and evocative storytelling. For the highly overrated That’s Why I Chose Yale video, what didn’t work for me (and many others) was that the setup was a couple minutes long, which is longer than most web videos, period. YouTube in Classrooms may be run 10 minutes, but it hooked me right away, and its pacing and content kept me riveted. And Sivers’ TEDx talk is a YouTube video within a video, showing the form itself as something to study.

If you still want to post a response, you’re welcome to do so. Many thanks to those who responded to build this meme. It was fun, sure, but I think we also gained more insight into what goes into great video!

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a video i love and why: vancouver 2010’s with glowing hearts

Consider this an invitation to join me in the blogosphere for a conversation titled A Video I Love And Why, where anyone is welcome to blog about or discuss great web video. My choice would be Vancouver 2010’s With Glowing Hearts.

Why do I love it? Let me count the ways.

1. Visual style. The editing of sweeping nature scenes (my favorite is the long shot of a solo pond hockey player) and intense closeups of speakers is stunning. The mix of these clips with archival footage and Olympic highlights strikes a very nice balance. The casting ranging from worldwide stars like Sarah MacLachlan and Steve Nash to those well-known in Canada to ordinary people also works.

2. Emotion. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat always resonate as emotional moments, and represent enduring appeals of sport. The script’s inspirational tone helps. My eyes often get moist watching, old softie that I am. As great as the writing is, watching it without sound can have just as much emotional impact.

3. Universal message. It’s about the Olympics, but it’s not. It’s more about the human spirit and inspiration. I love the breakdown of urgings in the middle:

  • Dream big things
  • Find your voice
  • Share your passion
  • Don’t be left wondering: “What if?”

You don’t have to be a Canadian (or an hono[u]rary Canadian like me) or a sports fan for the message to hit home. I always think finding a means of universal connection raises content to the next level.

4. Great music. The Doves track “Pounding,” or a remixed version thereof, has just the right feel. Though it’s interesting to note some Canadian message boards filled with ire over the choice of a British band with so much Canadian talent. An arguable point, perhaps, but the results speak for themselves.

5. The unexpected. Vancouver 2010 organizers could have easily just gone with a big heroic rah-rah sports-highlight reel. But they choose to make it inclusive, especially with such a prominent role for athletes in the Paralympic Games that also unfolded in Vancouver. It speaks to the message of inspiration and universality all the more.

So what do you think? And would be willing to share a piece of web video you love and discuss why you love it?

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the eye-opening world of google in-page analytics.

To hear Avinash Kaushik, one of the world’s foremost analytics evangelists, speak — as I was fortunate enough to do at SIMTech10 — would make anyone with a pulse want to dive into researching more about their website traffic. The hitch, of course, is finding the time to do so. But with the recent rollout of Google’s In-Page Analytics Beta, you can get eye-popping measures on your key pages in an instant.

If you have Google Analytics linked to an account, you start by logging in, selecting View Report, clicking Content (upper left) then choosing In-Page Analytics [Beta]. It will then pull up your top page in a window with various traffic metrics as well as which links visitors clicked. Like so:

Screen capture of Oswego home pageOn some browsers, if you open up another tab within your analytics account (for me, anything on oswego.edu), pages will have in-page metrics superimposed … which means you can surf various areas of the site for a quick read on how users interacted.

Of course, this brings other contextual considerations:

1. All bounces are exits but not all exits are bounces. I want to say Hubspot‘s Kyle James made this summation at HighEdWeb10, the best definition of it: A bounce is when someone hits their first page on your site and next leaves your site, while an exit means they have visited one or more pages of your site before departing. If someone surfs a bunch of pages, finds what they are looking for and then leaves, then this exit is not necessarily unglorious. Generally, you’d wince at a high bounce rate — do you want people visiting just one page of your site? — although there can be mitigating factors … if your home page is the default in computer labs when a machine is turned on, you could expect a high bounce rate.

Where do you want a low bounce rate? For specific landing pages meant to steer people to find more information or take actions. Thus this page having a bounce rate of 0.0%, presuming it’s not an error, is outstanding:

I mean, about a week with 274 visits and every one passes along to either a desired action (apply, check out majors, schedule a tour, see costs and scholarships) or another navigational element — and none leave — is that even possible? I guess so, but it brings us to another key consideration:

2. Sample size. You want to see what works and what doesn’t, but a day or two does not a pattern make. Especially if any of those days is a weekend, when our traffic is decidedly lower, results may be atypical. But if you see patterns emerge on a well-trafficked page for a week or two, you can draw more reasonable conclusions. For instance, over the course of a week, I’ve seen that home-page news items listed as having video tend to draw 5 to 6 times more clicks than those without. That’s a fairly remarkable difference, though one next wonders if the content itself is more compelling, with or without the indication video is available.

3. Be prepared to be wrong. We all make assumptions about our websites all the time. “People often skip to our A-Z Index instead of navigation.” “Topic navigation is more useful than audience navigation.” “Users won’t scroll.” Wrong, wrong and wrong. Maybe it’s because we installed drop-down accordion menus on our home page (among others), but our A-Z Index generally draws less than 5 percent of traffic there, and much less throughout the site. Topical navigation sees much higher clickthroughs than A-Z, but audience navigation (especially Prospective Students, Current Students and Alumni) appears very strong in some areas. As for scrolling, long pages with good content get just as many clicks farther down as they do above. People will indeed scroll for content they want.

These are only a few thoughts and tips. I have to admit jumping into analytics — especially a tool as rich as In-Page Analytics — is a bit overwhelming, and certainly a learning process. But so far, I definitely think it’s worth it!

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